Jamaican Plants and Unique Wildlife
A little bird called the Jamaican tody makes its nest, not in a tree, but in a hole in the ground. This particular tody is found only in Jamaica, and is one of the many endemic species found here.
Jamaica has a few harmless snakes found mostly in remote areas such as the Cockpit country
The mongoose was introduced to the island from India to kill the snakes in the canefields. Drivers will sometimes see them running across the road.
Jamaican plants are not what you would expect for a tropical climate. It is categorised as a dry tropical climate and hence grows its own unique set of plants. Aloe vera is abundant and unusual varieties of Hibiscus however they have their own version of the Franjipani tree that they call the caterpillar tree. Many colours and varieties of Crotons thrive here as well. The Poinciana or Delonix regia is also a common Jamaican plant.
Jamaica is renowned for its medicinal plants and their are many. The most important of which is the Coconut. It is said to wash the heart. The medicinal plants on this island are endless.
Jamaica is famous for its timbers – mahogany, blue mahoe (the national free), satinwood, cottonwood, cedar, Spanish elm and others. These woods are used in the manufacturing of beautiful furniture, carvingand fine craft items.
The national flower is the Lignum Vitae which means “Tree of Life”. In the old days, Lignum Vitae was used widely as a medicine. The wood is extremely heavy and hard and has been used to make ships’ propellers and policemen’s batons. Today it is prized by furniture manufacturers and sculptors.
Jamaica has over 200 native species of orchids and hundreds of imported varieties and hybrids. As a result, there are orchid shows especially in the spring and fall. Jamaica now exports orchids.
Jamaica has over 500 species of true ferns. Some are enormous tree ferns while others are so small they can hardly be seen with the naked eye.
Pimento (also called Allspice) is indigenous to Jamaica. We therefore supply most of the spice on the world market. The spice comes from the dry berry. Pimento oil is extracted from the leaves. A delicious liqueur is made from the ripe berries.
Over 252 species of birds are found here. Off these, 24 are found nowhere else. These include the national bird, the Streamer-tailed Hummingbird or Doctor Bird. Four varieties of Hummingbirds are found here. Among them are the Doctor Bird and the Bee Hummingbird, one of the smallest birds in the world. Hummingbirds are magic birds and remind us to be look for the joy in life and remember the healing properties of flowers.
The bamboo is the tallest member of the grass family. It originated in Asia, but many varieties are now found in Jamaica. Bamboo Avenue is an attraction close to the island’s southwest coast where the feathery tops form a canopy over more than three miles of road.
Bats (locally called ‘rat bats’) live in vast colonies in caves. Some feed on insects, some on fish, and some on fruit. Twenty-five species are found in Jamaica.
The island’s lizards are all harmless. Many can change colour to suit their surroundings – a protective strategy. Jamaica’s largest lizard is the iguana which can grow to over 6 feet long. Though now rare in Jamaica, iguanas can be seen at the Hope Children’s Zoo in Kingston.
A group of whistling frogs found in Jamaica do not go through the tadpole stage as do most frogs. Their eggs are laid under stones and hatch out into little frogs.
Jamaica has about 50 species of coral, in addition to a wide variety of beautiful sponges and seaweed. Some of Jamaica’s corals are found nowhere else.
When Jamaican fireflies flash their lights, it means they are courting each other. Each species has a different flash and the females have a different signal from the males. They are known locally as blinkies or peenie-wallies.
The Giant Swallow Tail butterfly is found only in Jamaica. It has a wingspan of up to six inches (0.2m). It is believed to be the largest butterfly in the western hemisphere. A Jamaican butterfly called the ‘Zebra’ has an interesting habit. Every evening, large swarms roost on the same tree or branch. This is a most unusual habit in the butterfly world. The ‘Zebra’ is striped black and yellow.